When a friend or family member has an addiction, loved ones are often concerned and want to help. They wonder what they can do to intervene and whether support is available to help them cope with the stress. Help is available, so you do not have to feel alone if someone in your life has an addiction.
How Addiction Affects Family and Friends
Most addiction experts consider addiction a “family disease,” meaning that it affects not only the person with the addiction but also their family members and close friends. Having a loved one with an addiction can lead to significant distress and consequences among family members, including:
- Reduced physical well-being
- Psychological problems
- Stress from exposure to violence
- Financial problems
When a loved one has an addiction, it can be difficult to cope with the accompanying challenges. Seeking support is vital to maintaining physical and mental well-being.
Signs of Addiction
When someone has an addiction, the clinical term for their condition is a “substance use disorder.” This legitimate medical condition leads a person to continue using drugs, even when they experience serious consequences from ongoing drug use. Signs of a substance use disorder include:
- Experiencing intense drug cravings
- Continuing to use drugs, even when it causes a physical or mental health problem
- Using larger amounts of drugs than intended
- Being unable to stop using drugs, despite attempting to do so
- Suffering from uncomfortable withdrawal side effects when not using
- Giving up other activities in favor of drug use
- Ongoing drug use, despite personal or work-related problems resulting from substance misuse
- Developing a tolerance, so larger quantities of drugs are needed to achieve the same desired effects
- Spending a substantial amount of time using or obtaining drugs
- Using drugs when it is dangerous, such as driving while under the influence
- Continuing to use drugs even when it causes problems in important relationships
Helping a Loved One With Addiction
Helping a loved one with an addiction can be difficult, but participating in their treatment increases the chances of a positive outcome. In fact, even if a person with an addiction refuses to participate in treatment, they are more likely to reduce their drug use if family members seek counseling. Family members can learn how to support the person with the addiction with a professional counselor or interventionist.
You can offer support to a family member or friend who has an addiction, but you cannot “fix them.” You are not responsible for dealing with the consequences of their addiction nor obligated to provide them with money or other resources. You must set boundaries for your well-being. This means telling the person with the addiction what behavior you will and will not accept.
You must also set boundaries surrounding what support you will provide. In some cases, family members may unintentionally enable their loved one’s addiction because they offer housing, money or food, making it possible for the person to continue their addiction without any consequences. Instead of enabling the addiction, offer to provide support with seeking treatment.
Understand & Limit Triggers
If your loved one is in recovery, they need to limit triggers for drug use. Certain situations, major stressors and being around specific people can trigger drug use. Learn about your loved one’s triggers so you can be sensitive to their needs and help them limit and cope with these triggers.
Look Into Family Addiction Counseling
Participating in family counseling is beneficial since addiction affects the whole family and can negatively impact family functioning. Working with a family counselor or therapist can help you heal family relationships that have been negatively affected. In family counseling sessions, you can also learn how to best support the person with the addiction and encourage positive changes.
Perform an Intervention
When a loved one has an addiction and is in denial about its severity, it may be beneficial to perform an intervention. During an intervention, concerned family members come together to convince their loved one to seek treatment.
When the family holds an intervention, loved ones often discuss the consequences of the addiction and ask the person with the addiction to seek help. They may give ultimatums, such as informing their loved one that they will no longer be a part of their life unless they seek treatment. It can be difficult to carry out a successful intervention, so it’s best to contact a professional to help you.
Consider Civil Commitment – If Necessary
A loved one may refuse treatment for an addiction, but in severe cases, you may be able to seek civil commitment. A Colorado judge may order involuntary commitment for a substance use disorder if a person has refused all other forms of treatment and is an imminent danger to themselves or others because of their addiction.
For your loved one to be civilly committed, you must file a petition in court and testify they are an immediate danger to themselves or others and unable to care for themselves because of substance misuse. Your loved one will have a right to fight against your petition and have legal representation in the matter.
If you’re looking for treatment options for a loved one, there are numerous levels of care to consider. Addiction treatment typically begins with a medical detox program, where a person receives professional support and interventions to help them cope with withdrawal symptoms. After completing medical detox, they should transition to an ongoing treatment program because medical detox alone is often insufficient for promoting long-term recovery.
Some people may benefit from inpatient rehab, which requires them to live on-site at a facility while undergoing treatment. Inpatient programs provide around-the-clock care and a high level of structure and temporarily remove people from the community, where they have access to drugs and triggers for use. If inpatient care is not needed or feasible, people can also participate in several levels of outpatient care. Outpatient programs allow people to continue living at home while undergoing treatment.
Once a person completes a treatment program, it’s helpful to stay engaged in aftercare services for ongoing support. Aftercare programs may offer ongoing counseling, support group meetings or relapse prevention services to help people stay committed to recovery.
Finding Help for Yourself
If you have a family member or close friend with addiction, it’s important to find support for yourself. Coping with a loved one’s addiction is stressful and can affect your health and well-being. You may benefit from reaching out for individual counseling to help you learn healthy coping and stress management strategies. It’s also important to care for yourself and take time for activities you enjoy rather than allowing your concern consume your time and energy.
Resources for Family and Loved Ones
For family members and close friends seeking support, many options are available:
- Al-Anon: Al-Anon provides family support for addiction by offering group meetings around the country. Meetings are designed for those with a family member or friend who has a problem with drinking. You can learn from others concerned about their loved one’s drinking in these meetings.
- Families Anonymous: Similar to Al-Anon, Families Anonymous is a mutual support group program for loved ones of people with drug or alcohol addictions. The program offers support group meetings around the country.
- ACOA: The acronym for this group name stands for “Adult Children of Alcoholics.” This program provides support group meetings for adults who grew up in homes and families affected by alcohol misuse.
- The Herren Project: This non-profit program provides consultation services and resources to families.
- AA: Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) provides support group meetings to individuals who struggle with alcohol addiction. It may be helpful to encourage your family member to attend a meeting to engage them in the recovery community.
- NA: Like AA, Narcotics Anonymous (NA) provides support group meetings to people who live with addiction. The focus in NA meetings is drug misuse.
- SMART Recovery Family & Friends: The SMART Recovery program provides support group meetings to family and friends to help them develop skills for supporting a loved one with an addiction.
- GRASP: This program provides support groups and resources for those who have lost a loved one to substance use.
- NAMI Family Support Group: The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers support group meetings to people with a loved one with a mental health condition. These meetings are confidential and led by loved ones of people with mental health disorders.
- Learn to Cope: This is a peer-led support network for loved ones of people with addictions. The network offers virtual support meetings and in-person meetings in Massachusetts.
- Recovering Couples Anonymous: Using the same principles as AA, Recovering Couples Anonymous offers support groups for couples in recovery, hoping to heal their relationship from the negative effects of addiction and other dysfunctional behavior.
See Related: Addiction Resources
If you’re seeking addiction treatment for a loved one, Denver Mental Health and Counseling is happy to be a source of support. Our Colorado rehab center offers a range of outpatient services. Our inpatient facility, The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake, is near Colorado Springs and offers breathtaking mountain views, so your loved one can recover in a serene environment. Contact us today to begin the admissions process.
Kahyaoğlu, Gizem; Dinç, Mehmet; Işık, Sultan; Ögel, Kültegin. “Effects of Engaging Family in Addiction […]A Preliminary Study.” The Turkish Journal on Addictions, 2020. Accessed September 23, 2022.
National Institutes of Health. “Criteria for Diagnosing and Classifying […]stance Use Disorders.” Accessed September 23, 2022.
Colorado Behavioral Health Administration. “Substance Use Commitment.” Accessed September 23, 2022.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Principles of Drug Addiction Treatmen[…]uide (Third Edition).” September 18, 2020. Accessed September 24, 2022.
Denver Mental Health Counseling by The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.